The right approach… A lesson for Guilford County

I’m going to have a lot to say about this article from the Wichita Eagle about schools, discipline and expectations, but for now do your homework and read it… It is long, but read the whole thing.  (Link via Ronald Newton commenting @ The Chalkboard)


I am hard pressed to quote any portion of this account of how principal Denise Wren did what she did at her North High School in Wichita, KS because there are so many elements to the turn-around.  She took control, she re-empowered teachers, she dis-empowered the students, she is tough and soft… but most of all she imparted expectations of excellence and backed it up with un-relenting discipline.  All of this in the face of shrinking budgets.

It worked, up to a point.

When, after a year of trying to close the achievement gap between black and white students, she gathered a bunch of black students together and did an extraordinary thing… she asked them why they thought black students were lagging.  Strange as it may seem, they didn’t know about it.  So she asked a reporter for the school paper to write about the disparity.

Soon after, the Wichita Eagle reporter interviewed another group of black students out of earshot of any administrator and their responses demonstrate how people will work to solve if they are informed of it openly.  From the exchange…

“OK. What was your reaction when Ms. Wren told all of you that black student achievement is not nearly as high as white achievement?”     “Embarrassed.”      “I had no idea.”     “I was really embarrassed. It made me want to try harder.”     “I always blew off those tests because I didn’t care. But I’ll never blow off those tests again. It’s embarrassing.”

“Why do you think black achievement isn’t as high?”     “Because people don’t try hard enough.”     “Hey, come on! There are all sorts of kids here who have to take care of other kids at home, who have all sorts of situations at home before they even get to school. It’s hard.”      “So what are you saying? That white people don’t have issues too?”     “They do have issues! I’m just saying it’s not all about people not trying hard!”

“OK, slow down. Tell me again, why do you think black achievement isn’t as high?”      “I told you, because people don’t try hard enough. I’m a slacker myself, and I’m telling you, you don’t hear a lot of black people saying they want to be a doctor or a lawyer. You hear them say they want to play basketball. They want to be a rapper. You don’t ever hear me or anyone say we want to be somebody’s veterinarian.”     “Yeah.”     “Maybe we should.”     “But I don’t want to be a veterinarian.”

The article points out, despite the advances, it is not enough.  Principal Wren is ashamed of how many kids her school is not yet reaching.  She is embarrassed for the state of public education… but she keeps trying to do more… with less.

Read it again.

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